Georgia PSC Signals Support For Continuing Vogtle Expansion 

In two actions on August 15, the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) signaled its support for the Vogtle nuclear expansion project, provided it can be done economically,

Georgia Power must show revised cost and schedule estimates to finish the costly Vogtle nuclear expansion as well as indicate whether it intends to finish the much-delayed construction project in its next construction monitoring report, which is due on August 31, one motion requires.

The PSC voted 4–1 on the motion put forth by Commission Chairman Stan Wise. The motion also requires Georgia Power to address whether the commission should approve revisions to project costs and schedule.

“This vote today sends a message to the Company, the Company’s partners, ratepayers, and Wall Street that the Commission continues to be supportive of this project provided it can be done economically,” Chairman Wise said in a statement. “This information will help us in deciding the appropriateness of whether this project should go forward or not go forward.”

The PSC also approved $222 million in expenditures on the project spanning from July 2016 through December 2016. That decision is not a ruling on whether those expenditures are “reasonable or prudent,” the PSC said. It only serves to acknowledge that the company has spent the funds on the project, and it closes out the 16th Semi-Annual Vogtle Construction Monitoring Report in Docket 29849.

Significantly, however, the PSC also adopted an amendment authored by PSC Vice-Chairman Tim Echols that will allow the commission to revise or rescind any future PSC orders if Georgia Power and its construction partners choose to abandon the construction project. That measure comes as a safeguard against an abrupt decision to abandon the project, as occurred at the V.C. Summer project in South Carolina. 

SCANA Corp., the majority owner of the project to build two AP1000 reactors at the V.C. Summer site, on July 31 said it abandoned the project after minority owner Santee Cooper’s board voted to suspend construction of the project. On August 15, however, the company withdrew a petition to abandon the project from the South Carolina Public Service Commission made under the Base Load Review Act.

“My concern is that if what happened in South Carolina with the partners voting not to go forward happens here, that without additional clarification our ratepayers could be put at a disadvantage,” said Commissioner Echols. “My amendment clarifies that this Commission can undo this or a future order and that everyone including Georgia Power are aware of that,” said Commissioner Echols.

Georgia Power owns 45.7% of Plant Vogtle with its partners, Oglethorpe Power Corporation, Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia and the City of Dalton Utilities, who own the remaining 44.3%.

According to the Georgia PSC, total capital costs of the project now stand at $3.68 billion as of December 31, 2016. Georgia Power’s share of the construction cost of Units 3 and 4, certified on March 17, 2009, is $6.114 billion.

Executives from Southern Co., Georgia Power’s parent company, earlier this month told investors in  a second-quarter earnings call that costs to build the two Vogtle AP1000 units could range between $18.3 billion and $19.8 billion—and for now, Southern Co. is pinning its hopes to complete the project on approval from the Georgia PSC.

According to Southern Co., assessments—outlined “in a range of potential schedules”—suggest Unit 3 will be placed in service between February 2021 and March 2022, and Unit 4, between February 2022 and March 2023.

—Sonal Patel is a POWER associate editor (@sonalcpatel, @POWERmagazine)